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Protein targeted as potential melanoma treatment

Jan 3 2014

Professor Xu Dong Zhang

A new protein that mediates the survival and death of melanoma cells has been identified by University of Newcastle cancer researchers, bringing hope for a new treatment method for the disease.

While there is currently no cure for melanoma once it has spread beyond the original site, Professor Xu Dong Zhang and Dr Lei Jin from HMRI’s Cancer Research Program are examining the role of the protein RIPK1 in melanoma cell growth.

They are testing the protein’s effect and its responses to treatment to identify its potential as a future therapy for melanoma.

“Australia has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world, with more than 12,500 new cases of melanoma diagnosed every year,” Professor Zhang said. “It can be treated successfully if caught early, however metastatic melanoma is one of the most difficult cancers to treat, with a cure remaining elusive.”

In 2014 Professor Zhang and his team will examine how increased expression of the RIPK1 protein causes the activation of pro-survival signalling pathways and how these pathways contribute to melanoma growth.

“The overall aim of the project is to find a new target for intervention to improve treatment outcomes for melanoma,” Professor Zhang said. “Studying this protein will provide us with new information about the why’s and how’s of metastatic melanoma.

“The study will also identify molecular markers that can be used for sub-classification of melanomas and help in the development of a personalised treatment. We hope to apply the information from this project to preclinical and clinical studies and eventually to the management of melanoma patients.”

By understanding the role of the RIPK1 protein, Professor Zhang hopes to identify if the increased expression of the protein can be used as a molecular marker to predict progression and resistance to melanoma treatments.

* Professor Xu Dong Zhang and Dr Lei Jin are members of the HMRI Cancer research program. HMRI is a partnership between Hunter New England Health, the University of Newcastle and the community. Funding was provided by HMRI and supported by Keith Tulloch Wine and The Rotary Club of Newcastle.